Sentencing hearings for former prime minister Ehud Olmert in the Holyland graft case began Monday at the Tel Aviv District Court, with the prosecution asking for at least six years of prison time for the most senior Israeli official ever convicted of corruption.
Olmert was convicted last month of multiple bribery charges, alongside nine other former senior officials and businessmen who were involved in the development of a massive Jerusalem housing project called Holyland while Olmert was mayor of the city over a decade ago.
The ruling marks the first time a former Israeli prime minister was convicted of bribery in what has been called one of the worst corruption scandals in the country’s history.
The state prosecution, represented by prosecuting attorney Yehonatan Tadmor, asked on Monday for severe punishments for those convicted in the case, including at least six years’ imprisonment and over NIS 1.3 million (some $370,000) in fines for the former premier.
“The punishment in the Holyland case must reverberate far and wide, fit the severity of the deeds, warn and deter,” Tadmor told the court. The corruption unveiled in the case “is unique in its severity and in its effect on the State of Israel, in the scale of the corruption, the financial amounts involved in the bribes, the identities of the bribers and the bribe-takers, and in the massive [real estate] projects that were involved,” he said.
Indeed, the prosecution spent much of its time arguing for severe sentences. “We must not get used to the nearly unfathomable amounts [of money] that were given to senior businessmen and public servants,” insisted Tadmor.
Olmert declined to summon character witnesses to the Monday hearing, preferring to present to the court 17 letters from friends and acquaintances, including Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev and former IDF general Doron Almog.
The Holyland conviction was not Olmert’s first. The former prime minister was sentenced by the Jerusalem District Court in September 2012 to a suspended year-long jail term and a NIS 75,000 (some $19,000) fine, following his conviction for a breach-of-trust charge in the so-called Investment Center scandal. The state prosecution is also appealing his 2012 acquittals in the Rishon Tours affair, in which he was cleared of holding a travel slush fund, and in the Talansky affair, in which he was cleared of accepting undeclared contributions from American businessman Morris Talansky.
On Sunday, the state prosecution announced it would reopen investigations into the Talansky and Rishon Tours affairs, saying there was new evidence of wrongdoing by the former prime minister.
The prosecution will present the Supreme Court with new evidence and will ask for the court’s permission to collect additional evidence, according to a statement issued by State Attorney Shai Nitzan.
Nitzan said the new evidence was obtained during the investigation of Olmert’s longtime personal aide Shula Zaken, who has said she has evidence that Olmert attempted to obstruct police investigations.